What Will Post-Lockdown Medical Market Research Look Like?
The long Covid winter is finally drawing to a close, and the UK is inching ever closer to a graduated end to lockdown. After a year of businesses scrambling to adapt to extraordinary circumstances, we’re now starting to wonder what awaits us as the ‘new normal’ asserts itself. We won’t be returning to the pre-Covid world – too much has changed to allow for that. But do we have a clear idea of what a post-Covid future looks like?
After the endless ‘present’ of the pandemic comes the opportunity for businesses to shape their future once more. The transition will involve making decisions about what we’ve learnt that’s useful, and what ‘got us through’ but is no longer required. At LDA Research we’re starting to review the changes we’ve experienced in the past 12 months, in light of the future we want to shape for our clients.
4 questions have emerged for us that are key to determining what post-lockdown medical market research will look like:
How Will Global Vaccination Programmes Affect International Travel?
For global research organisations the pandemic is far from over. Whilst the UK vaccination programme is a success, and the dropping infection rates signal the end of lockdown for us, other countries are at different stages. Many European countries are still in some form of lockdown, and UNICEF reports that there are still 130 countries waiting to begin vaccinating their populations.
There is currently a lively discussion concerning the development of Vaccine Passports in order to maintain Covid-safe borders between countries. Until a system is established, travel between countries is unlikely to return to the seamless movement we experienced prior to Covid. As a result, tech solutions will remain central to LDA's research offering.
Will Clients Want to Maintain Cost-Effective Online Methodologies?
Over the past year clients have experienced the magic of Zoom as an alternative to focus groups, in-person interviewing and tele-depth interviews. For telephone interviews this represents an upgrade to the interview experience, and it’s cost neutral. Where Zoom replaces person-to-person encounters it could be considered a ‘downgrade’, however it’s far cheaper and clients are enthusiastic adopters of the tech approach.
There’s no doubt clients will be looking at their budgets and seeing Zoom as a viable alternative to other kinds of research methodologies. Money, however, won’t be the only factor. Online research interviews allow clients to drop in on the process, and tweak the questions asked in response to what they see. This ‘hands-on’ option is a new kind of challenge for research facilitators to manage, whilst being hugely popular with clients who appreciate the new flexibility it affords.
Is There Any Rationale For Re-Introducing Face-to-Face Interviews?
The LDA Research team recognises that this is a delicate moment for the work of qualitative researchers. Costs, efficacy and pragmatism seem to be pointing towards a tech alternative to in-person groups. So we are taking time to survey the effects Zoom is having on our work and review the qualities that are lost when using the online alternative.
- Dynamics. Group dynamics are altered when everyone is interacting from a different location. Most noticeably, the technology is not yet unobtrusive enough to allow for a natural conversational flow.
- Research Aims. Some of the focus groups we set up are designed to reproduce the way a team interacts in their working environment. It is almost impossible to reproduce this kind of simulation online.
- Product-Based Focus Groups. Online groups can’t touch, use, or experience new products online. Even if products can be sent to individuals, the quality of the experience is different to that of a group.
- Range of Activities. There are a number of group activities that become ‘clunky’ or difficult online. Visual exercises, such as ‘mapping’ require the use of flip charts and pens. Break-out activities aren’t really possible.
Will Travel Remain Integral to The Research We Do?
Pre-Covid travel was very much a part of the LDA Research landscape. Projects were often planned around where clients, participants or specialists were located, and the cost of travelling and accommodation was ‘baked-in’ to the budget. Now those physical pre-conditions have melted away but our research has continued. So will travel become an anachronism – even within the UK - as we move forward?
There are plenty of reasons not to travel in the near future. The uneven rolling out of vaccinations, and the ongoing vulnerability of some participants make online meetings the default option. There’s also the advantage of being able to bring together experts remotely who might, in the past, have been hampered by distance.
The global pandemic is not, of course, the only crisis we’re facing. Our goals of reaching carbon neutrality over the next two decades will, in part, depend upon a reduction in the amount of travelling we do. Covid may just be nudging us in the right direction.